A Flash in the Pan
With Adobe Flash’s final curtain call quickly approaching, I’ve come to realize that there will someday be a point where I can no longer call something “Flash-esque” without confusing people. Sure, there are other words that I could use to describe games like Barbearian, but nothing works better than saying it feels like a Flash game. People who grew up with sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate know what I’m talking about, right? It doesn’t matter either way, though. That’s not really the point that I’m trying to get at. What I am trying to say is that Barbearian feels like it would fit in perfectly on an early 2010s Flash website—for better or for worse.
Likening something to a Flash game might not be the most flattering thing in the world, but I wouldn’t immediately take it as an insult, either. While the game is rather lacking in substance, it does make up for things with its quirkiness and ability to deliver a good 10+ hours of hacking and slashing. It’s here for a good time, not a long time. Maybe not the best time, but a good time nevertheless.
Bears… In… Space (I Think)!!!
Barbearian tells a simple tale of a proud warrior who finds himself abducted by an alien god and is forced to prove his species’ worth by getting through a number of grueling, extremely violent tasks. It’s a classic coming of age story, really, and I’m sure that we can all quite easily find the deep parallels that run between this tiny tyrant’s story and that of our own lives. Or something like that.
Okay, okay, so I might have been getting a little off-course with that last paragraph, but I had to take liberties with it somehow. The game’s story is incredibly sparse, with most of it being told through whacky-yet-simplistic dialogue coming from a number of different characters. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, however. Games like these don’t need stories, and the short-and-sweet approach works just fine. What really matters in Barbearian is the slaughtering of thousands of enemies—and boy does this game have you covered on that.
When Skellingtons Attack
Barbearian‘s gameplay loop is incredibly simple. Working in a manner that can most easily be likened to games like Gauntlet, Barbearain‘s level-based gameplay has players running around small maps, smashing everything and everyone in sight, and trying to avoid having the same done to them. Because each level is split into three sections, Barbearian, rather than forcing players to kill everything (which is pretty fun so I recommend doing it anyway), only asks players to kill the bigger baddies running around. Naturally, these guys aren’t generally out in the open. Instead, they hide behind traps, waves of smaller enemies, and even behind the walls of fortresses. Technically speaking you could make a beeline straight for them, however, because they usually have so many tiny minions running around them, it’s best to deal with everything else first.
Actually killing enemies is equally simple. In concept, anyway. Barbearian‘s protagonist doesn’t exactly have what you would call a “developed skillset,” literally being unable to do anything more than swing his axe around and, sometimes, get mad, which makes him swing his axe around even harder. Fortunately, he’s not alone. Each level segment has its own trapped minion that you can rescue. While not too useful at first, these upgradable underlings can eventually be amassed into your own, personal, incredibly helpful army. And, while they die pretty quickly, they can be revived just as easily. Hooray for semi-expendable allies!
Time For Some Chaos
Barbearian is very much a game that I’d describe as a “quick burn,” and not simply due to the fact that it’s short. As a whole, the game is fun. Being able to smash through enemies and obstacles, lead a small army, and collect and use weirdly wonderful sub-weapons definitely makes for a good time. But it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s all the same. Yes, the levels themselves are different, and enemy types change here and there, but there isn’t anything that makes one world or level feel particularly novel when compared to everything else. It gets stale quickly, and that only gets worse when you’re forced to replay the same level a few times because things just got a little too hectic for you that time around. Add to this that your upgrade pool is incredibly shallow—consisting of weapon, HP, and mana (exclusively used to revive minions) upgrades—and you aren’t left with any room to liven up the world around you.
You’re Not the Boss of Me
Most of the time you’ll be walking around and smashing hundreds of enemies down to the ground. But there are a few times where you’ll find yourself going from the smasher to the smashee—of course, I’m talking about the boss battles. Now, I’d like to start off by saying that boss battles feel like a very natural addition to this game. Not only do they help to break up the tedium that builds up over time, but they fit in well with the whole level-based gameplay formula.
Unfortunately, I can’t shower the boss battles themselves with nearly as much praise. I completely understand that bosses are going to work differently than fighting hordes of monsters, so the bosses going wild didn’t bother me so much. I actually kind of liked it. What did bother me was the fact that the game felt like it needed to endlessly spawn minions during each battle—with each boss getting more spawn-happy than the last.
Ravenous Boss Fights
Ironically, the fact that these bosses continuously spawns minions detracts from their unique pull. Rather than focusing entirely on the big baddie themselves, most of my boss fights revolved around hit-and-run tactics with a heavy emphasis on having my minions do the fighting for me. It becomes incredibly easy to get swept up by the horde following you around, and, naturally, taking a wallop from the boss stings a whole heck of a lot. Because of that, most boss fights end up feeling like tests of endurance. What’s even more frustrating was the fact that there was a boss battle that ditched the minion-spawning, and you couldn’t fight it without 100% the rest of the game. Why couldn’t there have been more of that?
Definitely Not Un-Bear-Able
At the end of the day, Barbearian isn’t too hard to figure out. It’s a slightly above-average, bite-size hack-and-slash game with a charm that feels incredibly Flash-esque. It’s not on my list of top contenders or anything, but it’s not something that I’d steer people clear of, either. If you’re looking for something fun, fast, mindless, and relatively inexpensive, there are definitely way worse things that you could play than Barbearian.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Kimmo Factor ; Developer: Kimmo Factor Oy ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 29, 2020 (Switch) ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $11.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Barbearian provided by the publisher.